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Medical Officers' Column

"My Experience as a Pregnant Medical Officer"

I was working at the NUH Department of Orthopaedics when I suddenly fainted during an operation. The good news came only two weeks later – I found that I was pregnant. The usual morning sickness began to set in soon. I did not throw up, but suffered dizziness and nausea in the mornings. I began to worry about whether I have accidentally exposed my baby to irradiation during the operations that required image intensifiers, especially during the period before the pregnancy was diagnosed.

I was happily gaining my appetite and still running around looking slim and fit when I first had some vaginal spotting. It came as a shock even though I knew it’s common. I was also on call that day. Fortunately, my registrar on call was very understanding and asked another MO to cover my duties for the rest of the night. Two days later, I spotted again, this time at home. It was very upsetting as I began to imagine the worst. For the first time in my life, I felt a strong maternal instinct and felt so scared for my baby that I burst into tears. I felt silly for crying and refused to go for a scan immediately that night, fearing the worst and also knowing that nothing could change the outcome of the pregnancy.

I visited a gynae the next morning and was reassured that my baby was fine. I was given an MC for seven days to rest at home. My colleagues were all very nice and volunteered to take over my calls for the rest of the month. I felt very grateful. I started doing calls again only in the second trimester. Although it was tiring, I did not want to take advantage of the kindness of my fellow MOs as they would have to work very hard and on more weekends.

Orthopaedics is not exactly an ideal posting for a pregnant MO, as there are many long operations as well as X-rays in the theatres. I would sit down in the middle of an operation when I started to fell faint, leaving the registrar or the nurse to assist my consultant. I remember one registrar telling me, "People don’t really care if you’re pregnant and having difficulties if you had bad working attitude before the pregnancy." Luckily, I don’t think I fell in this group. The consultants and registrars were all very nice to me. Still, it was very tiring especially after a call with no post-call. I also started to get sleeping problems, largely contributed to by bladder frequency and being a light sleeper myself.

Soon, it was time to change posting and the MOPEX came along. I applied for all the postings that did not require night calls as I would be entering my third trimester soon. Imagine my horror when I found out that I was posted to SGH A&E! I worked there two years ago and had great difficulty adjusting to the hours of shift work. I also could not imagine performing resuscitation as my tummy grew. I immediately wrote in to appeal for a change of posting. The reply was that there was simply no vacancy in any other department! I was however given assurance that I would be transferred out the moment they could find a replacement for me. I knew that I would not get priority as I was a non-trainee, but I had assumed that my track record of being a fast worker and the experience of having worked at the polyclinic before would have earned me a place in the polyclinic. I was very disappointed with the design of the MOPEX as it placed all the pregnant MOs at a great disadvantage. How can this be logical if the country’s policy is to encourage graduate mothers to have more babies?

So I started working at the SGH A&E. I was pleasantly surprised when the head of department approached me and asked what were the problems I anticipated. He readily granted my request not to do night shifts or work in the resuscitation area. He also granted me more off days to compensate for not having night shifts. I was very thankful and I tried to work hard. I was one of the high scorers in the number of patients I saw per shift. As my pregnancy progressed, I began to feel more and more tired after each shift. The meals provided at the department were not appetizing and we were not allowed to leave to eat in the cafeteria. I suppose there are valid reasons for this rule, but as an expecting mother, I needed to eat well. I ended up bringing bread to munch most of the time.

Soon, there was news that three MOs were joining the department in December 98. I was very hopeful and called up the administration to ask for my transfer out of A&E. I was initially given the assurance that things were being processed. I was also told that the polyclinic did not have the budget for another MO, but that the appeal had been submitted, and it takes time to work it out. I was a little bewildered. Was I not paid by the MOH? Why was there no budget for me to work at the polyclinic? I quickly dismissed my doubts and waited patiently for that phone call to inform me of the transfer.

The call never came. There was not even an explanation why I could not be transferred after three new MOs joined the team. Throughout my negotiations with the MOH HQ, I was always given very positive answers when I called up personally. However, weeks would go by if I did not pick up the phone to ask for the progress. I waited for the call that never came. I started to try to convince myself that A&E was a better working environment than the polyclinic. I stopped calling because it was getting nearer and nearer my EDD. I supposed that the HQ officer in charge was happy that I gave up calling, because he did not bother to contact me at all. Or may he lost my file. I felt bitter.

The fortunate thing was that we had a great bunch of MOs at the A&E. There were three pregnant MOs altogether, and the rest of the MOs had been very tolerant and considerate. I feel sorry that they had to do more night and afternoon shifts because of me, but it was something that I could not help.

My advice to all fellow female MOs is: If you are not a trainee, don’t get pregnant unless you are prepared to work at SGH A&E, or time your pregnancy so that you deliver in May or November! Meanwhile, we can all pray that the MOPEX will be modified to be sympathetic to pregnant MOs.





A word from the SMA MO Committee

We are sure all you pregnant mothers out there have similar experiences as Fui Lin – more good than bad, we hope! Please write to us about your feelings of the MOPEX system with regards to pregnant mothers, trainees and non-trainees etc. We hope to feedback all your comments and suggestions to the proper authorities which we feel would help refine the MOPEX system.

The Committee also welcomes articles on life as a Medical Officer in Singapore; be it on training, workload, traineeship, medical benefits etc.

Please submit to